Michael Milken: Guilty of Success and Victim of Non-Objective Reporting

by | Apr 22, 1998 | Business Ethics

Fischel demonstrated that the "crimes" Milken allegedly committed were mere bookkeeping infractions which violated no legitimate rights and harmed nobody.

A report in the Globe and Mail by Brian Milner on Michael Milken’s recent US$ 47 million settlement to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly violating “an order barring him for life from the securities industry” illustrates how nonobjective journalism sanctions vicious acts of injustice. [“Milken Settles SEC Lawsuit” 27 Feb 1998]

Milner writes: “Milken is regarded by supporters as a genius who revolutionized the world of corporate finance … Critics acknowledge his brilliance but see him as the ultimate human symbol of the greedy 1980s — a person who became intoxicated with his power and influence and considered himself above the law.”

The part about being a financial genius is true, as demonstrated in Daniel Fischel’s book (1995): Payback: The Conspiracy to Destroy Michael Milken and His Financial Revolution. Fischel demonstrates how Milken’s so-called “junk bonds” helped finance many upstart corporations to success and helped restructure existing inefficient corporations, all of which significantly benefitted America.

But the rest of Milner’s statement is nonobjective. The closest attempt at objectivity is Milner’s phrase “above the law” — implying that Milken was a law breaker. But Fischel demonstrated that the “crimes” Milken allegedly committed were mere bookkeeping infractions which violated no legitimate rights and harmed nobody. Fischel dissected the securities laws used to persecute Milken and showed them to be vague, fluid, non-objective and thus unjust (as are the antitrust laws now being used to persecute Bill Gates and Microsoft). Such laws allow envious competitors and power lusters to enlist government to destroy those who are successful — because they are successful. Fischel describes how it was unsuccessful and envious financiers, such as Nicholas Brady and Feliz Rohatyn, who enlisted the government to attack Milken.

Milken’s real “crime,” using Milner’s words, is that he is a “symbol of the greedy 1980s.”

Most people today, including most businessmen, accept the tenet that greed as such is evil. This obliterates the life-and-death moral distinction between those who create their wealth and those who loot it, and is rooted in the ethics underlying socialism — altruism and egalitarianism. Altruism tells man he must sacrifice himself to others, which leads to the egalitarian dictum that wealth should be forcibly equalized regardless of effort and ability. As Ayn Rand argued, egalitarianism is a perversion of justice and a vicious assault on ability, and is motivated by something even more evil than envy, “hatred of the good for being good.” [See Age of Envy in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (Meridian, 1993)]

This hatred motivates people to sneer at, criminalize and humiliate men and women of ability and success — using “greed” as a rationalization. As Milner reports, Milken was kicked out of the finance industry, fined billions, imprisoned, and then forced to teach “math to children in poor Los Angeles neighborhoods for three years.” Why? Because he was a “symbol of the greedy 1980s.” This, I submit, is morally obscene and viciously unjust — yet it is totally consistent with the ethics of altruism and egalitarianism.

It’s time for people, including businessmen, to challenge these vicious and destructive ethical doctrines (and the laws based on them) and start praising and defending the good for being good. Furthermore, reporters like Milner who, via nonobjective reporting, sanction vicious acts of injustice, such as that committed against Milken, deserve our moral scorn.

Glenn Woiceshyn is a freelance writer, residing in Canada.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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